High School Sports

Branden Dolezal named The Tribune’s County Boys Soccer Player of the Year

San Luis Obispo High School sophomore Branden Dolezal has been named The Tribune’s 2016-17 County Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
San Luis Obispo High School sophomore Branden Dolezal has been named The Tribune’s 2016-17 County Boys Soccer Player of the Year. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It’s not often that a player will change a coach’s philosophy. It’s even rarer that that player will be a underclassman.

That’s exactly what San Luis Obispo High School sophomore forward Branden Dolezal did with the Tigers boys soccer team this past season.

It started when Dolezal caught head coach James Boscaro’s eye the first day of tryouts his freshman year.

Dolezal made the team. As a result, Boscaro allowed four freshmen on the varsity squad this year — two of whom started — largely based off of the strength of Dolezal’s freshman performance in which he scored nine goals and had one assist.

“It was Branden’s freshman year that opened my eyes to give the (other freshmen) the chance,” Boscaro said. “It was a hard decision. We had to let some players go, and it was tough.”

In 2017, Dolezal improved upon his freshman season, recording 15 goals and seven assists in 13 games after moving into his preferred center-forward role. He helped the Tigers achieve an 18-4-2 overall record, 12-1-1 in PAC 8 play, and advance to the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. Dolezal was also named to the Division 2 All-CIF Southern Section team.

For his accomplishments, Dolezal is The Tribune’s County Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

Learning on the Job

Dolezal started his varsity career in the midfield behind the 2016 County Player of the Year Brian Finger. It was a position he hadn’t played regularly in his eight years of organized soccer.

“I asked him to do some things in the midfield he hadn’t done before,” Boscaro said. “He filled in on the wing. It didn’t take long to know we needed him on the field, not subbing in for players.”

Boscaro added that while he knew Dolezal was a natural goal scorer as a freshman, that role was already filled by Finger.

Dolezal said he learned to move in space and time runs better by working with Finger and playing an unfamiliar position.

“(Finger) taught me a lot of the technical stuff,” Dolezal said. “I had the athletic ability to apply it, but he taught me a lot of the technical stuff to improve my game.”

Dolezal also said that playing in the midfield helped him better understand where midfielders want strikers to position themselves to pass the ball.

“So it’s easier for both me and them,” he said.

With Finger graduating after last season, Dolezal was able to move into the center-forward position and use his experience to create more chances and more goals.

New Tests

Dolezal’s play didn’t just catch Boscaro’s eye. Scouts at the National Cup tournament saw Dolezal play for his club team, the Central Coast Condors — where he plays year-round — and asked him to try out for the Under-16 U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.

“It was a new experience because I’d never played with people my age, at my level,” Dolezal said. “I’ve always played with people that are older, and playing with people my age seems a little more natural.”

Although Dolezal didn’t make the team, he understands why.

“It was my first big setback in my soccer career, and so it’s like, ‘Hey, I didn’t make it. I’m not the best,’ ” he said. “I need to put a lot of work in in order to get back there and hopefully make it.”

Youth Movement

At San Luis Obispo High, Boscaro consulted Dolezal during tryouts this past season, asking the sophomore which freshmen players he should keep an eye on. Two freshmen — Moises Hernandez and Christian Mondragon — started for the Tigers, and Dolezal said the other two — Brenden Rattigan and Diego Albarran — made good contributions off the bench.

The youth movement is not a fluke experiment.

Only 13 of San Luis Obispo’s 58 goals came from seniors — the rest came from players who are set to return next year. Dolezal and Hernandez were involved in more than half of the Tigers’ goals this season, tallying 25 along with 11 assists between them.

Boscaro has seen the difference in having a younger team. The older teams he had coached before were disappointed when the season was over, but the younger teams are different.

“The seniors would say, ‘Oh we had a good run,’ ” Boscaro said. “The underclassmen know there is going to be a next year and know what to expect.”

Boscaro is already scheduling tough opponents for next season, including Division I runner-up De La Salle High School out of Concord.

The Tigers weren’t far from making a deep playoff run themselves this season. Godinez, the team that beat the Tigers 1-0 in the second round of the playoffs, went on to win the title.

“I have really big goals for next season,” Dolezal said. “I think we can win league again. I think we can go farther in CIF. Obviously, losing the seniors is a big deal, but we’ll have juniors that can step it up.”

Count Dolezal among them.

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